A record eight states have antismoking initiatives on the ballot, including ones that would raise taxes per pack.
Smoking is back in the cross hairs.
This fall, voters in a record eight states will be voting on tobacco-control initiatives that range from sharply higher taxes to smoking bans in most workplaces.
Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that the tobacco industry had conspired to mislead the American public about the health effects of smoking. She also ruled that one remedy is to end use of the terms "light" and "low tar."
And the industry may face yet more counteradvertising: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently said he was donating $125 million for global antitobacco efforts.
The results of the state initiatives in particular will be a gauge of political will, antismoking groups believe. If the initiatives pass, they say, members of Congress will take notice and perhaps consider national regulation of tobacco. And as more states protect the rights of non-smokers, they point out, pressure mounts on more lenient states.
"By 2008 or 2009, we may have made every state smoke-free in restaurants and the workplace," says Paul Billings, vice president for national policy at the American Lung Association in Washington. "As people visit places like New York, California, Delaware, or Maine and have a smoke-free experience, they come to expect it in their own state."
As part of the tobacco-control efforts, states have been steadily raising per-pack taxes. The current average state cigarette tax, including Washington, D.C., is 93.7 cents per pack, up from 91.6 cents this January and up from 72 cents a pack in January 2004.
One of the latest such efforts is in California, where a coalition of health groups met last year to begin a citizen process to raise the state's cigarette taxes, which had not been hiked since the late 1990s. Using a recommended level suggested by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the groups settled on a hike of $2.60 a pack, which would make California cigarette taxes among the highest in the nation.